Q. You assumed your role at Livingbridge in 2017. How would you describe the firm’s values and culture?
Susie Stanford (SS): We are a very eclectic group, where being different is good. As a firm, we excel because of the mix of people – the people around me are different, they think differently and have different ideas. There’s a quirkiness, almost, which runs through the business and I love that about Livingbridge. It’s a bunch of very bright people. We operate in a sweet spot – very nice, very smart human beings.
At Livingbridge, I saw a senior universe that looked like a firm I wanted to work in, in terms of diversity of gender and ethnicity, but also regional and educational backgrounds. There’s lots of senior women in the investment team which made a real difference to me. But also those women are in themselves diverse in their personalities and approaches, underscoring the point that no role is defined by a stereotype.
We truly value diversity. In other firms there can be quite a homogeneous range of people. Livingbridge can and will continue to drive for diversity of thinking. But for me the acid test is that there’s not a single dominating clique, rather a diverse collection of individuals which can be grouped a multitude of different ways to reflect their commonalities and differences. to me that really valuable.
Q. What would you say differentiates the firm in terms of its market approach?
SS: Private equity is, in some ways, an increasingly commoditised business – it is increasingly difficult to access differentiated information and capital is abundant. So the key thing is, do you see something that someone else doesn’t? Do you have a relationship, or an angle, which somebody else can’t see or capitalise on?
In the mid-market, where Livingbridge largely plays, there remains a significant opportunity to drive big step changes in value. Its less about financial engineering and more about unlocking growth in a platform through the people that lead it. This means there is still a role for relationship building and for creatively seeing something different.
I’ve often thought that creativity and trust building should make private equity attractive for a lot of women. Private equity is about judgement, about building relationships and about seeing something that somebody else may not.
For Livingbridge, we have seen that, by fielding a more diverse group of people, this often allows us to mirror the make-up of clients and prospects. We’ve got a broader bench to pull from and that can be a key factor in us winning over a management team and therefore a deal .
Q. When identifying promising companies what are some of the main things you look for in them?
SS: Always momentum. An attractive business needs momentum. In addition, a charismatic and dynamic management team with a clear ambition for what they want to do. We also look beneath the C-suite at the next tier down – the divisional heads and team leads, for instance – and look at their ambitions and goals. I’m looking for that spark in a business somewhere.
Mid-market businesses are also often in a sweet spot– bigger and more professional than subscale firms, but not hampered by a larger corporate bureaucracy and legacy mindset. We regularly find good opportunities, and good momentum, from these challenger businesses.
Q. You’ve sat on the boards of a number of portfolio companies. What are the benefits of working so closely with such firms?
SS: The best thing is that you live and breathe both the challenges and opportunities alongside management. Looking at a diligence report and forecast plan at the start of a deal is just that – a start. How it works out and whether you adapt where required is the measure of success. You get to go on a journey with your companies, the highs and lows of which can be a humbling experience. It doesn’t always pan out exactly how you thought, but the relationships built and the ideas developed along the way are as instrumental to an investments ultimate success. The main thing is to remain focused, be agile and so ensure you get roughly where you want to go. Livingbridge has a very good track record of doing just that.
Q. What advice would you give to young women looking to embark on a career in private equity?
SS: My biggest advice is that working in private equity is the best job in the world. I really wish more women would consider it. Many may need to look through what feels like heavy technical modelling aspects of the job, to the role that ultimately requires judgement with imperfect information and the ability to mediate through challenging situations – things that lots of women do really well.
A lot of private equity firms recruit people from consultancy and corporate finance or banking backgrounds. But many times, these hires drop out as they lack some of the key skills such as an ability to just take a view or build rapport. As you go through your career in private equity those things become way more important than, say, fancy excel skills.
What I would say is that, for anyone interested in private equity as a career, think about the job you want to do when you’re 30. If you think you have the right skill sets, get somebody to help you navigate through any technical aspects required. Figuring out a way through includes understanding what you need to be great at vs where you just need to be proficient.
Q. What can we do to deliver true gender equality in the workplace?
SS: In my view we need to stop talking about gender per se and start talking about People. At its most basic, talk about parental leave not maternity or paternity leave. At a more sophisticated level, to not presume a person’s gender has any more baring on their workplace skillset or home life dynamic than their educational background or ethnicity. Every individual has their own strengths and responsibilities to balance – so we need a flexible but accountable environment which allows us as an industry to get the best out of our people.
About International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
IWD has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organization specific.